The Mendacity of HopeOctober 20th, 2009

Hope keeps our president from confessing that his job has beaten him. If he came in with principles, they are all so much gas today. He’s at the mercy of the same forces that controlled his predecessors. Hope turns out not to be a strategy, or even a virtue. Hope is false, always and ever. It never got a job done, except to stand in the way of social progress.

What we want, what we deserve, what we demand, what we aspire to or subscribe to, what we have and what we will have are all as unconnected to what we hope for as scat is to Shinola. Hope is a state of suspended animation. Want motivates, but hope merely intoxicates. If the hoped-for object ever materializes, hope ends, and satisfaction sets in. Hope is our substitute for satisfaction, and hope yields its own satisfaction. Living on hope is living without what’s hoped for and, usually, also without what’s deserved, what’s demanded and what’s aspired to.

Consider the hope for satisfactory health care for all Americans. Millions of us have no health care, and millions more are not feeling secure about what they have, but we continue to hold out hope for some sort of improvement. While we hope, our leaders plot a course that seems intended to mislead us as citizens, exploit us as consumers, and serve their patrons a generous helping from the big pot of money that their “reform” will create. Hopeful people are frantically calling their congressmen, writing letters, forwarding emails. They have hope, and maybe that’s all they have, because the media tell them, with great regularity and considerable relish, that nobody’s listening to them. If hope could ever yield to resolve, universal health care might be possible, but hope keeps us quiet and patient, and nothing changes in that sort of atmosphere.

Lambs going to the slaughter don’t know hope, but it wouldn’t help them much if they did. Americans and their president are different from lambs only in that they have hope. Hope is something you can do instead of anything. A person doesn’t have to expend much effort to hope, as he might to deserve, demand, or expect. Hope springs eternal, because, in hoping, passively and effortlessly, we gain satisfaction without ever gaining the hoped-for object. That’s why there is no hope for peace and justice where there is only hope for peace and justice.

Frustration of social objectives seems to be the lesson of an ever-hopeful USA. We concede that our objects as a republic–liberty and justice for all–are ideals that can never be fully realized. Instead, we hope for a better future, and this allows us to maintain all sorts of unsatisfactory conditions. Hope makes us tolerant and accepting, like sheep. Expectation might make us accountable and responsible, but this prospect seems to frighten us, and so we cower hopefully.

Sometimes, people really need to do something, and now is one of those times. Hope paralyzes us even as the conditions that surround us require the utmost mobility, energy and stamina. We’re beyond hope now. What we need is determination, in ourselves and in our leader.